As the GOP embraces the reactionary politics and anti-government zealotry of the Tea Party, it is steadily purging “moderates” and empowering extremists. Nothing shows this trend more clearly than the lineup of potential Republican presidential candidates. In this new series, we’ll be looking at the records and promises of the Republican Party’s leading presidential prospects. Next up is Bobby Jindal:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the self-styled policy wonk who once lamented that “dumbed down conservatism” is turning the GOP into “the stupid party,” has quickly embraced the Republicans’ increasingly frantic talking points about the imminent end of liberty and freedom in America. Capturing the mood of Tea Party activists this year, Jindal touted his support for a “rebellion” and a “hostile takeover” of the government to stop the “radically, extremely liberal, ideological president.”
Jindal also jumped on the controversy surrounding Phil Robertson, star of the Louisiana-based A&E reality TV show “Duck Dynasty,” to position himself as a defender of conservative Christian values against a tyrannical government and secular media. Jindal, along with other conservative figures, turned Robertson into a cause célèbre when his show was temporarily put on hiatus after he made statements attacking gays and lesbians and defending Jim Crow. Jindal alleged that A&E violated Robertson’s First Amendment rights when it put the star on leave, and has since cited the “Duck Dynasty” fracas to warn that the rights of same-sex marriage opponents are under “assault.” The Obama administration, gay rights advocates and the courts, Jindal told graduates of the conservative bastion Liberty University this year, are all waging a “war on religious liberty — on your freedom to exercise your religion, on your freedom to associate on your freedom of expression.”
“The same liberal extremists that want to come take our guns are the same forces that want to take away our religious liberty,” he told a National Rifle Association gathering the month before. He added: “Our freedom is under attack. Our opponents don’t believe in individual freedom…They believe the individual is subordinate to the state, subjects of the elite…We cannot let them change who America is.”
He also alleged that freedom is under attack across countries like the United Kingdom due to Sharia law no-go zones, or areas governed by Islamic law that he believes are coming to America. When asked by a reporter where in the U.K. such no-go zones exist, Jindal was unable to name a single location. While Fox News retracted its claims about such zones after experts said that the charges were completely baseless, Jindal has turned the belief in no-go zones into a major campaign theme.
An opponent of abortion rights “with no exceptions,” Jindal signed legislation that would have shut down all of his state’s abortion clinics if not for a federal judge’s decision to halt its enforcement. He also signed laws limiting insurance options for women seeking abortion care and mandating that a woman undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound before being allowed to have an abortion.
Jindal has led an aggressive push in his home state for the privatization of public education and the taxpayer funding of religious schools, even directing taxpayer dollars to schools espousing Creationism, which he said would let kids “be exposed to the best facts.” Unsurprisingly, these policies have failed to improve education outcomes in the state.
Jindal was at one time a strong supporter of the Common Core education standards: He once called Common Core’s adoption a key part of his education policy and was featured in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce advertisement promoting the standards. But Jindal has since done an about-face to get behind the growing Tea Party and Religious Right hostility to Common Core. The Louisiana governor is now touting his opposition to Common Core in front of conservative audiences and implying that the standards entail a surreptitious socialist agenda. Jindal’s new line on Common Core plays right into conservative conspiracy theories about the standards, including claims that they represent a federal government takeover of the education system and will indoctrinate students into left-wing politics. Louisiana’s state board of education has ignored Jindal’s reversal and is implementing the Common Core standards anyway.
Jindal’s desire to appeal to right-wing conspiracy theorists has even led him to wade into the issue of President Obama’s citizenship, supporting a “birther bill” under consideration in the state legislature in 2011. Jindal has repeatedly suggested that Obama neither understands American values nor loves America.
While Jindal works on burnishing his image for national audiences, he remains deeply unpopular among his own constituents. A majority of Louisiana voters, including Republicans, disapprove of the job Jindal has done as governor and say he shouldn’t run for president. Jindal is especially unpopular on pocketbook issues, as his economic agenda has led to a collapse in the state’s fiscal health. His policies have been so damaging that even Republican lawmakers in the state consider his policy program to be “insane.”